Commentary: What Questions Were Answered in Camp Kenosha?
by Jonathan Hodges

For my final commentary before the 2008 season kicks off this Saturday, I'll review the five questions I asked going into Camp Kenosha and determine if they have been answered before Northwestern's first game against Syracuse.

First of all, one of the biggest issues of any training camp that has specifically been a problem for NU over the past few years is injuries.  It seems like virtually every year there is a significant injury to a starter or major contributor.  The fortunate thing about Camp Kenosha 2008 is that no starters were injured for the season; the only season-ending injury was sustained by SB Drake Dunsmore, who saw some playing time last season as a true freshman.  While he was expected to contribute to the 'Cats' efforts and his loss will be felt, the "superback" is still a position in the NU offense that is not utilized on most plays, and NU has other options to fill in at that position such as Rooks (another true freshman who saw playing time last year), Joplin, Mitchell, and Woodsum.  Otherwise, there were a few bumps and bruises but nothing major that will see starters or backups missing significant time.  (Note that Gill will miss the opener against Syracuse due to a one game suspension for a "violation of team rules," which was announced before heading to Kenosha.)

1. Will the offensive line be effective, especially considering its relative youth?  TBD

This question will only be answered with action against live competition, which will come Saturday.  The 2-deep was announced prior to the game and it will be (from left to right): Netter, Kennedy, Burkett, Belding, and Mattes.  Fitz has been very high on Taylor, who can apparently back up multiple positions, and performed well in camp.  Don't be surprised to see him and Grant (who has experience in games) come in during the game to allow the coaches to test different combinations.  Given that, only the performance against Syracuse and the teams that follow will shed light on how the line is shaping up.  The key will probably be the play of the two guards: Kennedy and Belding.  Although Belding has the experience, he has apparently been pushed hard by Kennedy and Taylor and has swapped positions around the line.  'Cats fans will see if Fitz and the staff can settle on the starting 5 and their positions after game one.

2. How much different will the defense look under Hankwitz?  So far, more aggressive and more fundamentally sound.

Again, this question won't really be answered until the 'Cats hit the game field, as one can't really tell how the defense is performing in scrimmages and drills, but things are looking up.  The attitude surrounding the defense at camp seemed different - more confident in themselves and their coaching staff - and the coaches were very focused in their mission when directing practices and speaking to the media.  First off, the focus was definitely there on being fundamentally sound first from the players and the coaches.  Secondly, basically all anyone can talk about his how the scheme that he runs will bring out more aggressiveness on defense and should benefit NU - particularly up front with the DL.  Of course we'll have to wait until live action to get a real taste but all signs point to improvement; the question is, how much.

3. Can Northwestern win all of its nonconference games?  TBD

The attitude is there: one game at a time; Fitz wouldn't stand for anything else.  There are some aspects of the nonconference opponents that should challenge the 'Cats, but NU should be favored in each matchup.  But, given NU's history in nonconference play coupled with the ever-present upset factor, nobody will know the answer to this until September 20th.

4. Will the offense improve from last year (NU led the conference in total offense but was 10th in scoring)?  Signs are pointing to yes.

Again, nobody will know until the offense gets some reps on the field, but McCall's offense seems perfectly suited to NU's talent on offense.  With a healthy Sutton and a more balanced attack including more rushing, NU should be in better shape.  Last season NU suffered when the pass-heavy attack sputtered in the red zone thanks to much less field for the opposing defense to cover and the fact that they could rush the passer without abandon.  This season, the no huddle should help mitigate defensive substitutions in the red zone that would hamper the NU offense and a "go to" rusher in Sutton is a key weapon.

5. Will Fitz's head coaching performance continue to improve?  Yes

I can answer this one just looking back at his hires for OC, DC, and DL coach.  But the season will definitely be a further test; fortunately he has HIS staff in place that he trusts and can fall back upon - not that he didn't trust the staff before, but now it is truly his team of coaches.  It seems as though he is opening up more to fans and the media after being in an akward situation for a couple of years while getting his feet wet.  I believe we'll see him begin to shine in game situations along with his recruiting skills paying off and his ability to develop players showing up, too.

All 'Cats fans (and CFB fans) should be looking forward to this weekend - I know I am very much anticipating the kickoff to the 2008 season!

Go 'Cats!!!

e-mail: j-hodges@alumni.northwestern.edu

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jhodges is the primary content provider of HailToPurple.com.  His commentary and game analyses appear regularly during the season and occasionally in the offseason.